There's an old saying: Give 'til it hurts.
In these tumultuous economic times, it apparently hurts too much. The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are "keeping their wallets closed" when it comes to charitable giving this holiday season. The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, one of the largest charities in the U.S., saw a huge drop in giving this October and November: They received nearly 40 percent less than during the same period last year. And The Barna Group notes that "Americans are now passing on their financial pain to churches." A recent Barna poll showed that 20 percent of surveyed households had reduced their church giving, with 22 percent of that group reporting they've stopped giving altogether.
It's understandable that some folks—particularly those who've lost jobs or homes this year—have had to make drastic cuts, including in their charitable giving. But for the majority of us, a moderate loss of money shouldn't mean that we start lagging in charity. We need to cut back on our Starbucks intake, not our tithe.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't give as much as I could, or should. I've been inspired—convicted, really—by a new reality show, Secret Millionaire. On the show, undercover millionaires visit low-income communities. Their mission: to find worthy folks and give them money. They meet extraordinarily generous people who have very little, yet they give generously and joyfully. There's the senior who uses her Social Security check to house and feed homeless moms and their kids. The woman who started a horse ranch in the projects to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs. The former inmate who now takes in other women who've been released from prison. The stories are enough to bring you to your knees, wailing, "God, I haven't done enough. I haven't loved enough."
Most of us can afford to give a lot more than we do: of our money, time, and energy. If you desire to give, but are short on money, here's a list of no-cost and low-cost ways to be charitable. (Many thanks to my friends who sent me this information!)
Got empty pockets? Some no-cost ways to donate:
Recycle for a cause. My church does this; we donate the money toward reforestation in Ethiopia.
Use http://www.goodsearch.com/, a free search engine, to look for information online; the charity of your choice benefits from every search you make.
From Dawn & Shawn:
Answer trivia questions at http://www.freerice.com/, and you can earn rice for the hungry. (A great site for families with kids!) More info: http://www.freerice.com/faq.html
Sponsored by Xerox, www.LetsSayThanks.com lets you send a free card to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq.
Donate old tennis shoes to Nike; the company grinds them up and uses the material to make running tracks for high schools. There are shoe collection bins in Nike retail stores: http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/
Donate old cell phones to soldiers overseas or to a domestic violence shelter for women: http://www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com/
Make a Wish Foundation (http://www.wish.org/help/donate) accepts non-cash donations including building supplies, computers, airline miles, and hotel loyalty points. (Some hotels, such as the Hyatt, will match your hotel loyalty points donation.)
Donate old eyeglasses to an African child through this Goodwill/Lions Club/Lenscrafters program: http://www.charityguide.org/volunteer/fifteen/eyeglasses-donation.htm
Facebook users can play (Lil) Green Patch: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=7629233915. Proceeds from the ad revenue generated by the game are donated to environmental organizations that preserve the rainforest and plant trees.
Donate old phones to Verizon's phone recycling program, which provides survivors of domestic violence with cell phones and airtime: http://aboutus.vzw.com/communityservice/hopeLine.html
Visit the Breast Cancer Site to give free mammograms. Sponsors pay for the mammograms; their ads are on the website (you don't have to buy or do anything other than click a button, and no personal information is collected). http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/home.faces?siteId=2.
Another site, www.thehungersite.org, does something similar; you click to donate food. (Holly says: "I clicked and got the message, You have given the value of 1.1 cups of food to the hungry.' Very cool.")
(If you are in disbelief that clicking your mouse once could actually do some good in the world, check out this information on Snopes, provided by my friend Jennifer: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/charity/mammogram.asp)
Some employers allow you to contribute to a sick-leave "bank," where you and other employees donate some of your unused sick days/hours. Employees who run out of paid sick leave due to prolonged medical disability can then receive hours from the bank. Joe says, "It's a good thing to do when you're young, healthy, and in a good job but not making a ton of money for donation purposes." Contact your Human Resources office and ask if your company offers this.
Starwood properties (Sheraton, W, etc.) lets you donate hotel points to charities including Special Olympics, American Red Cross, and UNICEF: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/account/starpoints/partners/index.html.
There are many ways to donate air miles: http://www.google.com/search?q=donate+your+air+miles&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a
In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can donate "tiny tickets" (the leftover part of your transit cards): http://ebcf.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=67&Itemid=154.
Got a little cash and want to see it go a long way? Some low-cost ways to donate:
Research charities at http://www.charitynavigator.org/. You can view information on an organization's revenue and expenses.
Before you buy an item from your favorite online store, check to see if the store participates with "Clicks for Homeschooling" by visiting http://www.hslda.org/Clicks4HS/about.asp. A portion of your purchase will be donated to the Home School Foundation, which provides assistance to needy home-school families.
Donate a cow—or part of one. Your contribution to Heifer International (http://www.heifer.org/) is used to buy animals for people to set up their own farms so they can have food and make money to live.
Sell stuff on eBay with a little note saying that you're donating the money to a particular charity.
Get friends to donate products from their companies, then hold a raffle for a charity.
Finally, my friend Harlen writes, "There's always the old standby of donating your time. If you've been laid off, you might as well work with a charity between job interviews. Volunteer work looks good to prospective employers, and it makes you feel good, too."
So go out and do some good. You don't even have to dig deep into your pockets to do it.
Warm wishes for a blessed Christmas and New Year,
What's your favorite charity or charitable activity?
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